Crafts with succulents — on a miniature scale

Rachael Cohen, here in her backyard workshop, is the owner of Infinite Succulent and has written a book by the same name.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Rachael Cohen holds a graduate degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography and has worked at the San Diego Zoo and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Now, she said, “I get to play with plants.”

Cohen is the owner of Infinite Succulent, which she describes as a “botanical styling, art and educational service.” She creates succulent arrangements, holds workshops, organizes craft parties and helps clients get more plants into their homes.

And she has written a book, released in February, titled “Infinite Succulent: Miniature Living Art to Keep or Share.” The craft book offers step-by-step guidelines on how to create living art with easy mini-projects made with succulents, such as tiny wreaths, refrigerator magnets and arrangements in teacups. True to her conservation background, Cohen also covers how to care for the finished craft to keep it alive and how to take the whole project apart and propagate new plants from the clippings.

The book is just the latest way succulents have become part of Cohen’s life.

The 39-year-old first became enamored with the versatile plants when she moved to San Diego from Hawaii in 2005.

“I was drawn to them. I thought they were really pretty and cute and inspiring. When I moved to Monterey to work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, they were everywhere,” Cohen said. “I would walk a lot in Monterey. I walked to work and walked home and was always looking at people’s gardens and being really envious how beautiful their gardens were.”

She now lives in San Marcos with her husband, Greg, and two daughters, ages 5 and 7. When the couple got married in 2010, Cohen chose succulents for her florals.

“I have friends who tell me that the succulents they got at our wedding are still alive, and now that was nine years ago. That’s really special,” she said. “I know people who take their bouquets and have them preserved, and they are beautiful, but to have something living that came from an event that has so much meaning to you. It’s just a really beautiful, valuable thing these plants can give us.”

Among her favorites are echeverias for their flowery shape, snake plants (Sansevieria zeylanica) for their air purifying ability and aloe veras for their medicinal properties.

A miniature succulent arrangement created by Cohen in her backyard workshop.
(K.C. Alfred / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“There’s a lot of love that’s imparted through every plant. I feel like that with succulents,” Cohen said.

After the birth of her second daughter, Cohen went through a period of anxiety and insomnia. A therapist recommended the book “The Artist’s Way,” by Julia Cameron and told her to find a hobby.

During her daughters’ afternoon naps, she started making terrariums.

“Something about making a little mini habitat and little mini landscape really spoke to my inner child,” Cohen said. “I found that was the one thing I could really do that would silence that anxious mind — that monkey mind that I was kind of dealing with at that time.”

Before long, she was giving her arrangements to friends and neighbors and they were hiring her to make more for their friends. That was the beginning of Infinite Succulent, which also includes an online store, pieces on Etsy and a blog.

The blog and Instagram posts caught the eye of The Countrymen Press editor Aurora Bell. The publishing house wanted to do a craft book on succulents, and she was looking for a writer.

“Rachael is the first person I found,” Bell said. “It seemed like a good fit. She has a visual eye and had an engaged following and interesting perspective.”

The idea for the mini-crafts came up through their conversation.

“There’s a lot of interest in miniature things. People are really drawn to small-scale projects and just things in miniature form,” Cohen said. The small-scale theme extended to the book itself, which is 7 inches square, “for those who don’t necessarily want to craft,” she said. “They still have a really appealing book they can have on their coffee table and can share will others.”

The two are considering another collaboration.

“She is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever worked with,” Bell said.

While the book has tiny terrariums, miniature pots and twig magnets, her workshop projects are on a larger scale with arrangements on driftwood and in glass and wood containers. A recent workshop at the Barrels & Branches plant nursery in Encinitas catered to kids.

“She’s very engaging and always happy,” said Kristy Beach, the event coordinator, who met Cohen when Cohen volunteered to help at a workshop more than six years ago. “She has a great love for teaching. The way she teaches is very reachable, even if people aren’t crafty.”

Cohen wants others to feel the power of the plant.

“Because of my own story and because the plants have been there for me, I really like to bring that around back to others. And really, it’s a stressful time to be alive. I think that every day you can find a million things to be stressed out and upset about. But on the flip side of that, every day you can go out and you can find beauty and you can find connection and you can find meaning. For me, personally, being out in nature and working with natural elements ... helps me to look more to the positive than the negative.”

She brings her message of sustainability to the book and her workshops. All the tools for her projects are spoons, forks and chopsticks saved from takeout orders.

“I recognized that as an environmental educator, I have the opportunity to take this love to create — this passion I have — and share it with others, especially share it from a place of therapy as much as it is a mindfulness practice. It’s a place for people to put away all the stressers and just be really present and focused on the moment and working really intimately with nature and their own creativity.

“As an adult, we don’t really get a lot of options to do that anymore, but there’s so much benefit in that.”

Succulent Twig Magnet

Here are instructions from Rachael Cohen for making a succulent twig magnet:

Small piece of driftwood/twig/branch/bark
3-5 succulent clippings
Preserved craft moss
Hot glue gun or cold crafting glue
Magnet backings
Optional: feathers, dried flowers, small crystals or stones or sea glass.

1. If needed, clean your twigs/driftwood/branches by soaking them in soapy water, rinsing and allowing them to dry in the sun.

2. Clip and prep about 3-5 succulent clippings of varied shapes and sizes, ensuring that you keep their stems very short.

3. Decide which side of the twig/wood you would like to be the front and the back and determine the area on the wood where you would like to attach your succulents.

4. Glue preserved moss to the areas of the wood where you would like to “plant” your succulents.

5. Glue your succulent clippings and any other desired decorative elements to the moss.

6. Adhere magnet to back of wood. Display and enjoy.

Provide bright, indirect sunlight.

Do not water for at least one week after creating. Then mist or gently water the moss area once a week. About once a month, provide the piece with more thorough watering by soaking it under a gently running faucet.

With proper care, your succulent twig magnet may last up to six months before needing to be disassembled. You can replant your succulent clippings into a pot or your garden and re-create your twig magnet with new succulent clippings, time and time again.

Schimitschek is a San Diego freelance writer.